Sid and Marty Krofft Interview: Saturday Morning Icons Talk Career and Lifetime Achievement Emmy
Written by Marc Parker and Melissa Benefield Parker, Posted in Interviews Producers
Image attributed to Sid Krofft & Marty Krofft
Sid and Marty Krofft are icons to generations who were riveted to their televisions for H.R. Pufnstuf (1969), Lidsville (1971), Sigmund and the Sea Monsters (1973), Land of the Lost (1974), Pryor’s Place (1984), D.C. Follies (1987) and many more. The Canadian-born puppeteers created and produced groundbreaking, live-action fantasy shows that became mainstays of the Saturday morning airwaves. In the 1970s and 1980s, the Kroffts also found success as producers of popular primetime variety series such as Donny & Marie, The Brady Bunch Hour and Barbara Mandrell and the Mandrell Sisters.
Marty at 81 and Sid at 88 are still going strong and have created three series and five pilots in the past three years. The series include the two-time Emmy nominated Nickelodeon series Mutt & Stuff, a remake of Electra Woman & Dyna Girl and a remake of Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, which is currently airing on Amazon. Included among the pilots are the reboot of their beloved The Bugaloos and an original science series starring The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik. The brothers also recently received the Lifetime Achievement honor at the 45th Daytime Emmy Awards.
"We’ve got probably over 40 million fans out there, and I’m sure 30 million can sing the theme songs."
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sid and Marty, I want to congratulate you on receiving the Lifetime Achievement Award at the Daytime Emmys for your work in the entertainment industry.
Marty Krofft: Thanks.
Sid Krofft: Well, thank you. You know, we all dream about just winning for a show, but to get a Lifetime Achievement Award has just blown us totally away.
Marty Krofft: You’ve got to be 111 to get it.
Sid Krofft: Yeah (laughs). Everybody just dreams about winning an award, you know.
Marty Krofft: Yeah. And they gave us one. We didn’t have to win it.
Sid Krofft: (laughs)
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I want to know what you guys did in your early years. How did it all start?
Sid Krofft: It’s a really, really long story.
Marty Krofft: Oh, Sid, don’t do this to her.
Sid Krofft: I’m not gonna do it.
Marty Krofft: (laughs)
Sid Krofft: Well, then you do it. Go ahead, Marty.
Marty Krofft: Okay. I’ll do mine. You’ll like mine better. I’ll tell you the truth, okay? Let me tell you about my childhood. I had no childhood. I was an only child because all my brothers were a lot older than me, so I went right from school to work. I was working when I was 12. I lived in the Bronx. We moved there from Montreal.
I lived near Yankee Stadium, so I spent most of my time at Yankee Stadium, and I also worked at a drugstore that had a lunch counter. I delivered the food to all the ballplayers and the visiting teams. I used to walk Joe DiMaggio to the ballpark. So I didn’t really have a childhood (laughs). But I had an interesting youth.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What about you, Sid?
Sid Krofft: Well, okay. When I was 10 years old, the first movie I saw was The Wizard of Oz, and then I saw a vaudeville show a week after that. I’d never seen a live show before, and there was a puppet act in it. When I saw the puppet act, I wanted to be a puppeteer. There was an ad in the first Superman comic book for a marionette for $3.95, and I asked my dad if I could get it. He said, “First of all, you’re a boy, and you want a dolly.” He just totally rejected that, but I went out and sold Christmas cards, saved up and got my first marionette. It all started that way when I was just 10 years old.
When I was 15 years old, I traveled with the Ringling Bros. Circus as the world’s youngest puppeteer in the sideshow, and then I kept building my act. I ended up being the opening act for Judy Garland, Frank Sinatra and Liberace. Marty joined me in 1958. We got the crazy idea to do the biggest puppet show ever produced. Marty and myself got this idea, and that’s when we partnered together to do this huge puppet show called Les Poupees de Paris. It opened at the Seattle World’s Fair, became a smash hit, and the show played to nine and a half million people. That’s what really put us on the map. Then we got into television, and the rest is sort of history, and we got the Lifetime Achievement Award for our 50 years that we spent in the business.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Wasn’t Les Poupees de Paris an adult-themed puppet show?
Sid Krofft: Yes, it was.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Too risqué for television at that time?
Sid Krofft: No, not at all. It was just a gimmick because no one had ever done topless puppets before. You had to be 21 because it was a total takeoff on the Lido and Folies Bergere because I worked there. There were 250 marionettes in the cast. It was a huge, huge production. This generation has never seen anything like it. And the reason it was for adults only was because the puppets were bare breasted. It was like the Lido. There were no four-letter words or anything like that in the show. It was just a big takeoff on those big shows in Paris.
Marty Krofft: Some of them didn’t wear bras.
Sid Krofft: That’s what I said. They were bare breasted.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Is it true that Billy Graham was offended because the female puppets didn’t wear bras?
Sid Krofft: What happened was that Kennedy was supposed to attend the fair in 1962. But he bowed out, and because we were sponsored by the Seattle World’s Fair, Billy Graham was ushered in to see the opening show. After it was over, and we blew everybody’s minds, we invited the entire audience backstage to see the nude girl puppets in the dressing room getting dressed to leave the theater. Billy Graham wouldn’t come back. That night, he had a big rally of 100,000 people in the stadium, and he said, “America should come to the Seattle World’s Fair. It’s so beautiful here. But don’t go see a show called Les Poupees de Paris because the women don’t wear bras.” Well, that was picked up by Time magazine, Life magazine, everybody.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Marty, in the beginning, was it you that had the vision to create all of the trippy characters and psychedelic worlds?
Marty Krofft: Oh, no. It was all Sid.
Sid Krofft: No, it wasn’t! We work as a team. One of us has an idea, and then both of us just really start throwing it up against the wall and working on it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Working closely with family members can be tough. How did you two maintain a working relationship for all of these years?
Sid Krofft: Well, it is tough. It’s 60 years. Marty, you take this one.
Marty Krofft: How do we work together?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Yes. How have you worked together for all these years?
Marty Krofft: We stay together, and then we stay apart. It’s like a sitcom. I go to work every day to run the company. Sid works out of his house most of the time. He’s much healthier than me. He goes to the gym every day.
Sid Krofft: Yeah. The gym. That’s the place.
Marty Krofft: But we’re both alive, and we’re still in the action. The company’s thriving. We did a new show called Mutt & Stuff with the 23 dogs, and we’re taking it on the road. It’s real successful. We finished two one-hour specials just now, and then we have two more shows on the air right now. We made a new one of Electra Woman, which is on iTunes and Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, which is on Amazon Prime. David Arquette, who has always been a big fan of our shows, is starring in that one.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are you also working on a show with The Big Bang Theory’s Mayim Bialik?
Marty Krofft: We’re doing a second pilot with her. It’s a science show for kids. Of course, she’s a PhD scientist. Even though she’s making a lot of money on The Big Bang Theory, she wants to do this kids show. I want to make sure it’s right before we go on the air.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): What’s your favorite creation, Marty?
Marty Krofft: For me, there are three of them. The first show’s always your favorite, which is H.R. Pufnstuf. Then Sigmund and the Sea Monsters, and the other one is Land of the Lost even though we’ve done many more.
Sid Krofft: What people don’t realize is we did 26 title series. There are 26 titles, and we did 21 specials. So that’s a lot of work (laughs). It took thousands of people to do that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You two also gave Richard Pryor his own series (Pryor’s Place), and that was taking a chance on him because of his reputation for drug use and using profanity.
Marty Krofft: He was incredible, but that was a nightmare to me because I had to spend all the time with him. I had lunch one day with the head of CBS, and they wanted to get another show. So I said, “Richard Pryor.” He said, “If you get Richard Pryor, I’ll give you an order of 17 shows.” It took me a while to get him because he’d say, “Yes,” then “No,” then “Yes,” then “No,” but ultimately, he said, “Yes.”
Sid Krofft: Not only that, but there were times when the cash register is going like crazy, and he doesn’t show up on time. He was difficult to work with, but when he was on stage and the camera was rolling, oh, my God. There was nobody like him.
Marty Krofft: One time during the series, I went to Hawaii and stayed there for three weeks waiting for him to come back to do the show. He did. But that was a trip. That was an interesting part of our career.
Sid Krofft: And we had some huge stars on that show. Everybody wanted to work with him. Every comedian on the planet would say, “It’s because of him that I’m here.” He was the greatest teacher of comedy. He was brilliant.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I think that D.C. Follies, with the puppets that were politicians, is my very favorite. I remember that Fred Willard was the only live actor that regularly appeared on the show.
Sid Krofft: Oh, yes. Thank you!
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why not reboot that series in light of the current political climate with Donald Trump as president?
Sid Krofft: (laughs) That’s for sure. Oh, my God!
Marty Krofft: We were working on that one, but we were late. By the time we did it, there was too much Trump and all that political stuff out there, and it started getting ugly. We wanted to be just funny.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): So you did think about bringing D.C. Follies back?
Sid Krofft: Oh, yeah! Marty’s been working on it.
Marty Krofft: Recently, I sent two writers out. One was the head writer of Conan. We wanted something 180 degrees away from it. So we’re working on that right now. The big thing was that on D.C. Follies, we didn’t go for their throats. We made a bad time for Richard Nixon more comedic.
We did D.C. Follies, then we got a spinoff called Red Eye Express, and I hired Ronald Reagan, Jr. to be the host. He was great. So we did that, and that one show went on the air. That’s when Ronald Reagan, his father, called the next day to tell us how much he loved the show. At that point, we had a guy doing voices and did Ronald Reagan, so I thought it was him. That was a little bit embarrassing (laughs).
Sid Krofft: Reagan said the whole White House used to watch D.C. Follies on Friday nights and on Monday when they all came in, they would talk about it.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): And unlike his dad, Ron’s a Democrat.
Marty Krofft: He’s beyond a Democrat.
Sid Krofft: And he’s such a nice guy. He was just incredible to work with.
Marty Krofft: If somebody out there now knew we were going to do another D.C. Follies, I’d get a call from him. His name is Donald Trump (laughs).
Sid Krofft: Oh, God. Sure. He’d want to know all about the Trump puppet.
Marty Krofft: Right. I hate to tell you. I’m in my office with Trump and Putin. We built two of the puppets already.
Sid Krofft: Trump would call and ask how tall it is. You know who did that to us once? Mae West. We had her in Le Poupees de Paris, and she wanted to know who she was going to be with on stage as a puppet. We told her, “Maurice Chevalier.” She asked, “How tall is he?” I said, “It’s a puppet.” Mae said, “I have to be taller than him. Okay?” So I am so sure Trump would want to know exactly how tall the puppet was.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) Why did H.R. Pufnstuf end?
Marty Krofft: Well, it didn’t end, just the episodes ended. In those days, you only got 17 episodes. Everybody thinks we had 100, but we only had 17. We were the ones that came in and changed the whole Saturday morning thing with live action. We had done The Banana Splits with Hanna-Barbera the year before. They didn’t know how to do those characters and mix live action with animation. The head of NBC programming and Kellogg’s (the sponsor) used to come out to our factory and watch the production of the characters.
Finally, NBC said to me, “Why wouldn’t you come up with your own show?” Pufnstuf was in world’s fairs under another name. Coca-Cola built us theaters at the Six Flags parks and the world’s fairs. We took that character and created a show around it, and that’s how it all began.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Then came Sid & Marty Krofft Television Productions Inc. v. McDonald’s Corp in 1973.
Marty Krofft: McDonalds had access to our shows. Ray Kroc, the head of McDonalds, had access. They wanted the Pufnstuf character to be a la McDonaldland. They wanted to pay us to use our characters, but ultimately said they weren’t doing it. I came back from Europe and turned on the TV. There were commercials on, and they had McCheese which was Pufnstuf, and the Hamburglar was Witchiepoo.
I didn’t want to do it. In fact, my lawyers in LA said, “You’re out of your mind. You’re going to get killed by them. You’re the flea.” I said, “I don’t care. I think it’s just right.” It took us 13 years to get the verdict on our side, and it’s the leading copyright case in the world still. Everybody that goes to law school studies our case. So that’s kind of interesting. We didn’t get a ton of money, but it was a great thing for our company.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You two also produced Middle Age Crazy, a 1980 film starring Bruce Dern and Ann-Margret. Why did you decide to get into movies as well?
Marty Krofft: Well, we also went into primetime television. But with that film, I heard a song on the radio as I was driving to where I moved out of town, and it was a guy singing about a birthday he was having. The song just sounded like a movie. The next morning, I sent someone that works for us to see if that record was in a record store. I got it, then I found a writer, then we ultimately pulled it off and made that movie.
We did a couple of others, and of course, we did Land of the Lost in 2008. We’ll see what’s going to happen. We’re going to do another film. We’re working on another one. We’re working on one with a dog. The dog is called Jumpy.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): I’m one of those people that can watch movies about dogs only if it isn’t sad.
Sid Krofft: (laughs)
Marty Krofft: There always has to be a sad moment.
Sid Krofft: One little sad moment. Do you have a dog?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sadly, she passed away a few months ago.
Sid Krofft: Oh. Now that’s hard. Well, of course. That’s family.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Are there any regrets or anything you would’ve changed over your storied careers?
Sid Krofft: No. I’m just grateful to wake up every single day and be blessed with all of this. Marty is … he’s unbelievable. He’s kept the company going all these years. He takes “No” for an answer. Everybody in this town absolutely loves him because everything he promises, he delivers.
Marty Krofft: We’re like federal express. We deliver.
Sid Krofft: Everything’s up on the screen. Maybe that’s why we’re not rich (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Marty, are your kids and grandkids in the entertainment industry?
Marty Krofft: We have more relatives than probably Walt Disney had, so it’s not just Sid and myself. I got three daughters, five grandkids and a great grandchild that’s two years old. So that’s the next generation. My oldest daughter Deanna not only runs the company, the office and everywhere we need to be, she’s a great producer. My middle daughter Kristina is an actress and a writer. My baby Kendra is a great makeup artist. And they’re all around. I’ll ask you a question. Do you know why they never come home?
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Why?
Marty Krofft: They never leave (laughs).
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): (laughs) Sid, you never married?
Sid Krofft: No. No.
Marty Krofft: That’s why he looks good.
Sid Krofft: I’m married to my career. I love that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): You just never found that special person?
Sid Krofft: Oh, I’ve had so many friends all these years. But no, I just never got married.
Marty Krofft: He does have all of the relatives that have popped out of our families. We’re not lonely. But sometimes, you can be lonely with a roomful of people. But you know what? We’re never alone.
Sid Krofft: One word that I want to say about Marty. He’s brilliant. There’s nobody in this town like that guy.
Marty Krofft: Let me tell you the truth. That’s not Sid on the phone. That’s a stand-in (laughs).
Sid Krofft: Marty wrote that line for me.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Do you still have adults tell you how much you scared them as kids with exciting adventures like Sigmund and the Sea Monsters and Land of the Lost?
Marty Krofft: Of course.
Sid Krofft: Oh, yeah.
Marty Krofft: We’ve got probably over 40 million fans out there, and I’m sure 30 million can sing the theme songs.
Sid Krofft: It’s amazing how they took all our shows with them their whole lives. Pufnstuf was done 45 or more years ago. You should just see us at Comic-Con, which we go to every single year. They’re all adults. They’re not kids. They come up and want to touch us, and they cry. It’s very emotional for us because we triggered something in a lot of people’s minds and lives. We really appreciate all of that.
Melissa Parker (Smashing Interviews Magazine): Sid and Marty, how do you want to be remembered?
Sid Krofft: Just for what we contributed to a lot of people out there. When Marty says we’ve got 40 million fans, actually TV Guide said it was 30 million. But that’s okay (laughs). All over the world we have fans because we’re all over the world. I get so much fan mail. I don’t know how they found my address.
Marty Krofft: Let me tell you the answer to that question. It’s something I live by. It is, “On your worst day, help somebody else.”
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